Olympic Beijing. China is a world power de facto. With an unprecedented economic growth, it faces with the celebration of the Olympic Games a challenge that endows it at once with national affirmation and global legimitation. Two articles analyze the development of the country, which has assured for itself a predominant international presence in the coming decades, and that of the capital, which takes advantage of the sports event to update headquarters and infrastructures. A map helps to locate the new facilities of the city.
Ideological Scale. Current architecture in China is not only ostentation of the growing political and economic power of the country, but also expression of the moment’s intellectual effervescence and of the desire to shape a new national identity. Six foreigners have contributed to this task: the British Lord gathers in the colossal airport the Chinese symbols and traditional colors; the French author wraps his ovoid theater with a titanium and glass membrane; the Swiss office presents the stadium as an iconic nest of steel branches in the Olympic Park, next to the bubbling facades of the swimming pools by the Australian team; the Dutch studio reinterprets the skyscraper building type in the headquarters of the state television; lastly, in the private realm, the American architect builds an interconnected residential complex.
| Cover Story
|Views and Reviews
Urban Design. The political, cultural and economic changes in China have transformed the profile of its cities; the emerging society, a totally consumerist one, wishes to create its own design brand.
|Art / Culture
|Artistic Dissidence. Two internationally renown Chinese authors have collaborated in the Games: Ai Weiwei in the design of the stadium and Cai Guo-Qiang in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic events.|| Laia Manonelles
Ai Weiwei, a Plural Artist
Cai Guo-Qiang’s Big Bang
|Viennese Circle. The sociologist Otto Neurath was the leading figure of the interwar urban debates and a pioneer of the information age with his defense of interactive creation and his statistical pictograms.||Focho’s Cartoon
Ieoh Ming Pei
Fair Volumes. The modernization of the Spanish law courts buildings has triggered the construction of the new cities of justice. In Madrid, eight local offices, the New York-based Pei and four London ones – Foster, Rogers, Hadid and FOA (two of which repeat) – present fifteen cylindrical pieces; in Barcelona, another British studio executes a complex of linear blocks.
|Technique / Style
|To close, the large works promoted on the occasion of the Olympic Games in a barely democratic China spark controversy concerning the legitimacy of designing for regimes such as that of Putin in Russia, the autocracies of some ex-Soviet republics or the Gulf Emirates, areas all of them that are now experiencing an extraordinary construction boom.||Products
Bathrooms, Ceilings, Platforms
The Best and the Worst
The 2008 Olympic Games symbolically endorse China’s protagonism in today’s world: the planet’s largest nation flaunts its economic power and organizational skills through a sports, political and urban event that puts
the ‘Middle Kingdom’ at the center of the global stage.
At the same time, the colossal structures raised for the occasion – designed mainly by foreigners – turn Beijing into a rich laboratory of architectures that permit taking the temperature of a feverish discipline. Rising over a landscape of fast urban growth and vast destruction, which has led to the disappearance of the traditional city of hutongs and courthouses, the five major public works – to which we add here a private development
as an example of the country’s present building boom – are emblems of China’s rise, but also serve to illustrate the current architectural debate.
The airport by Norman Foster, with its exact diagram of flows and an unexpected lightness in what is after all the largest building in the world, shows the stubborn resilience of modernity; a design approach that is also present in the National Theater by the polytechnicien and also airport architect Paul Andreu, whose pearly ellipsoid of glass and titanium over the water inevitably evokes that French geometric monumentality that leads us back to Boullée. Postmodern in their epidermic representation of random meshes are, in contrast, the two large sports venues of the Olympic Park: the great stadium by Herzog & de Meuron, turned into an instant icon of the Games – both techtonic and pyrotechnical –, through a huge skein that knits the steel to conform what has been described as an intimate and titanic nest; and the appealing swimming pools by PTW, known as the water cube because their prismatic precinct is clad in a translucent skin of soft ETFE bubbles. Midway between epithelial postmodernity and heroic modernity are the two high-rise projects, the striking logo drawn up as a folded frame by OMA to serve as headquarters of the CCTV, with its calligraphic expression of the structural stresses and its gymnastic, formal displays in a tradition that goes from the Wolkenbügel to the Max Reinhardt Haus, and through the KIO towers; and the Linked Hybrid by Steven Holl, eight intertwined towers that unite the metaphysical abstraction of a residential still life and the technical dynamism of their industrial footbridges, in the wake of those we admire in the Van Nelle or the Pompeia factories.